Bonding in the Backcountry

Bonding in the Backcountry

by Jeremy V. Jones

There’s nothing quite like a campfire to get men talking. Staring into glowing embers beneath a canopy of stars has a way of moving a man’s soul beyond the mundane and onto the ultimate issues of life. Even the most tight-lipped male may find himself steeped in discussion deep into the night.
Last fall on the banks of Colorado’s Gunnison River, a campfire threw shadows on the red sandstone cliffs. None needed prodding as each father looked into the eyes of his son and spoke affirmation and blessing. The words were different for each, but the themes were the same: I’m proud of you. I love you. I enjoy watching God shape you into a man.

The group of 16 was gathered by Breakaway magazine (Focus on the Family’s publication for teen boys) and Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting Co. & Adventure Program Ltd. For three days, each father and son camped, hiked and guided a canoe through western Colorado’s canyon country.

Life lessons

‘Canoeing provides a natural way to relate and learn,’ says Chuck Cichowitz, who founded Noah’s Ark in Buena Vista, Colo. ‘If a principle or truth can be experienced, then it will more likely be remembered and applied.’

As they launched into the water, fathers and sons were given discussion questions for the day. Trusting river maps and charts reflected the importance of relying on God’s Word for ultimate guidance.

While connecting fathers and sons was the main goal, camaraderie developed among the entire group. ‘Guys tend to be loners,’ one of the fathers, Darrell Eash, says. ‘[But here] we’re forced to interact with other men. A father may [realize] he needs to begin building stronger friendships with other men.’

The power of praise

‘One of the most important ways to build a relationship is speaking a blessing into your son’s life,’ another of the fathers, Gentry Gardner, says. Experienced in father/son outreach through his ministry called Sure Passage, Gentry led the group by his example as he blessed his son Garrett.

‘A lot of guys don’t do well verbalizing feelings, but getting men in a setting [like our trip] and having the opportunity to say you love your son, you’re proud of him and you want to have a relationship with him opens the door,’ Gentry says.

‘During our campfire blessing, I talked about the meaning of my son’s name,’ Darrell says. ‘I told him that Andrew was the disciple who brought people to Jesus, including his brother Peter and the boy with the loaves and fishes. I pray that Andy will be a man who leads folks to Christ.’

Many more rapids of adolescence undoubtedly lie ahead for each of these young adventurers. But the sons and fathers returned from the wilderness better able to navigate the turbulence together.

‘The highlight of my trip was spending more time with my dad,’ Joshua Hildebrand, 13, says.

‘The blessing ceremony was especially cool,’ Garrett, 13, says. ‘The things my dad said will stick with me for a long time.’

Each summer, Breakaway leads father/son canoeing adventures. Visit for information.
Jeremy V. Jones is the associate editor for Breakaway magazine.

This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
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